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Ecclestone era over if convicted, admits CVC

19 November 2013


Bernie Ecclestone would be removed as the head of F1 should the High Court find against him, the sport's majority shareholder has confirmed.

The 83-year old is one of four defendants in the ongoing civil trial brought by Constantin Medien, accused of selling F1 to asset management giant CVC at a cut-price. Ecclestone is facing a $100m damages claim, amid allegations that he bribed bank official Gerhard Gribkowsky to undervalue the stake held by BayernLB in order to attract CVC, a buyer known to be in favour of keeping him at the head of the sport.

While the Briton denies the charges against him, CVC co-founder Donald Mackenzie told the court that his company would have no hesitation in firing him if found guilty. Mackenzie revealed that Ecclestone had initially denied making a $44m payment to Gribkowsky, before claiming he was being blackmailed by the banker, who now resides in a German jail having been found guilty of accepting a bribe and tax evasion.

"He told me that he had had a meeting with one of his colleagues who had reminded him that he had made payments to Gribkowsky and he apologised for having forgotten this," Reuters reports Mackenzie as telling the court, "He told me he had never lied to me - I must say that I had trouble believing you could forget payment of $40 million."

CVC paid approximately $830m for a 47 per cent stake in F1 - a figure Constantin claims prevented it from claiming a cut, which would have been required had the price been above $1.05bn. Mackenzie admitted that the deal had been among CVC's top ten deals, but the headlines generated since had not necessarily been favourable, potentially costing the company the opportunity to float the sport of the stock market. CVC has since sold off almost half of its total stake, reducing its holding to 35.5 per cent.

"It is a successful investment apart from the adverse publicity and this is a good example of it," Mackenzie told the court, before adding: "If it is proven that Mr Ecclestone has done anything that is criminally wrong, we would fire him."

Mackenzie also revealed that Ecclestone had spoken with disgraced former RBS boss Fred Goodwin whilst the F1 rights were being touted, saying the contact highlighted the extent of Ecclestone's influence beyond the sport's own sphere. According to the Scottish Herald, Mackenzie told how RBS had cropped up at a meeting to discuss possible lenders in the sale.

"I mentioned RBS," Mackenzie said, "and [Ecclestone] said 'I know RBS. I'll call the chief executive now' - and called Fred Goodwin. Goodwin was tracked down by his PA and Bernie said 'I have got someone in the room who wants to borrow some money from you'. It's quite unusual for a chief executive to call a chief executive of a bank, but that reveals Bernie's influence in the world."

Ecclestone appeared in court between the Abu Dhabi and US grands prix, and the trial is expected to continue for several weeks. German authorities have already postponed their own proceedings until the New Year, while Swiss prosecutors are currently debating whether Ecclestone should stand trial there.


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